Denying the Abuses of Critical Race Theory and Canceling Culture
Almost half of all states have passed or are actively considering laws that would restrict the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” (CRT). Although this term is academic, it has become a substitute for concerns about the cancellation of culture, the shame of white students on the basis of their race, and racial separatism. Many politicians are listening to these concerns. If Republicans take control of Congress in the 2022 election, chances are they will pass laws threatening federal funding for universities they deem too awake.
Progressives have understandable concerns about these types of laws. Legislation is an awkward way to deal with today’s complex racial climate, and some of the laws being passed could make it difficult for teachers and professors to talk about racial issues.
The best way to approach the CRT’s backlash would be to recognize that, despite good intentions, there are abuses committed on its behalf. What most CRT critics want is for this abuse to stop. Unfortunately, many progressives have imitated the tactics of the more paleo-conservative advocates of the police. They deny that there is any abuse, and when faced with compelling evidence of abuse, they see it as the work of a few bad apples. Charles Blow of the New York Times wrote: “Once again, THERE IS NO CHOICE TO CANCEL THE CULTURE. Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said of the CRT’s critics: “This is another right-wing plot. It’s totally invented by Donald Trump.
But abusive practices in the name of racial progressivism occur at all levels of education. One of the many possible examples is what happened recently in a large Penn State lecture class. The teacher, Sam Richards, approached a random white student. He did not seek the student’s consent to make an example of this. He said “I’m just taking the average white guy to class, whoever it is, it doesn’t really matter. Dude, that guy. Stand up, bro. What’s your name, bro. ? Look at Russell, right here, it doesn’t matter what he does. If I relate him to a black in class, or a brown … who’s like him, has the same GPA, looks like him, walks like him, talks like him, acts in the same way … and we send them to the same jobs … Russell has the advantage of having white skin. “
It is totally inappropriate to distinguish a student in this way without their consent. Imagine a teacher in a health class doing this to an overweight student. The same teacher brought another student to the front of the class and asked him to tell the class how his privilege of white made him feel. (The answer was “sad”.)
Penn State’s response to deny there is a problem. Responding to a question from Fox News, the administration replied that “Professor Richards deliberately teaches in a manner designed to promote discussion across a range of opinions.”
On the contrary, Professor Richards appears to be aware that students fear pushing back against abusive practices committed in the name of racial justice. In another class, he showed students a power point used in training sessions on corporate diversity that told participants to “be less white”. Being less white was defined as being less “oppressive”, “arrogant” and “ignorant”, among other things. Professor Richards showed the power point to the students. He asked a student “Which white people would find this offensive?” The student replied, “I don’t want to be canceled, so I try to be careful what I say.” Rather than encouraging the student to speak up, the teacher replied, “Whatever you do, don’t get canceled. “
This is exactly the kind of abuse the anti-CRT movement is responding to. When diversity teachers and trainers tell white people that they are “ignorant” and “arrogant,” it naturally provokes an angry reaction in many people. And, as Professor Richard’s student says, many people believe they will face serious consequences if they push back.
In this kind of environment, it’s no surprise that many people turn to their state legislators for help. This help has taken the form of legislation that could make things worse rather than better.
It would be much better for powerful institutions like Penn State to take some responsibility for what goes on under their watch. It is true that in the case of Penn State, there are questions of academic freedom to consider. But the university could have stated that it disapproved of publicly singling out students on the basis of their race while acknowledging that the professor’s actions were protected.
There is still a lot of racial injustice in the country and there is nothing wrong with striving to recognize these injustices more widely. But when things go as fast as they are now, there is going to be some abuse and overshoot. Denying this will not make the problem go away and already produces a backlash that could have been avoided.